Review: Taylor Swift’s Red (Taylor’s Version) transcends the original album’s masterpiece status

Taylor Swift penned most of the tracks for Red, her fourth album, between the ages of 20 and 21. The album was another step in her departure from being a country star to a pop megastar, and it cemented Swift into legendary status the minute it came out.

Red is a masterpiece.

It has rock elements, pop bangers and heartfelt ballads. The production was top-notch, and the storytelling in the lyrics has withstood the test of time over eight years.

“Happy, free, confused, lonely, devastated, euphoric, wild, and tortured by memories past.” That's how Swift reminisces to Red. She isn’t wrong.

But Red isn’t Swift’s anymore. So, as a part of the rerecording project to make a statement against those who own her masters, Swift released Red (Taylor’s Version) on Friday to prove one thing once and for all: they should have never challenged Taylor Swift.

Why should they challenge her, when after 15 years into the industry, Swift is finally at her creative peak. The rerecordings, if anything, have only opened up the opportunity for Swift to perfect her previously-released crafts with her tremendously improved vocals compared to the original 2012 album.

To recreate a masterpiece is a challenge, but it’s Swift we’re talking about, after all. She wouldn’t do it if she knew she couldn’t. Unlike Fearless (Taylor’s Version), Swift made significant modifications for her second rerecording with stronger vocals and more assertive production.

“Red” conveys a more urgent production to reflect the rush of experiencing new emotions. “Starlight” sounds more powerful with Swift’s improved vocals. “The Last Time,” featuring more toned-down vocals by Gary Lightbody from Snow Patrol, showcases Swift’s improved vocal agility over the years.

But nothing surprises me as much as “Girl at Home,” which has completely changed compared to the old version. It’s not like it was a bad country-style acoustic song, but who would have thought it would be such a perfect synth-pop track. Of course, Swift did — her mind.

Other than the 20 previously-released tracks, the album also has B-tracks and outtakes, bringing the album to 131 minutes. Coincidence? I don’t think so, considering her obsession with the number 13.

“Nothing New,” which features Phoebe Bridgers, has been one of the most anticipated tracks ever since Swift announced the tracklist. A song about growing older, they pondered: “How can a person know everything at 18, but nothing at 22?” Under a tender production by Aaron Dessner, the song is easily one of the best released this year. Yes, I’m asking for a Swift/Bridgers duet album.

Swift gave tracks "Better Man" and "Babe" to Little Big Town and Sugarland, respectively. But there is something about her connection to the lyrics that brings the songs to their highest ceiling. “I Bet You Think About Me,” featuring background vocals by Chris Stapleton, is a rowdy country track where she showcases some of her twang.

“Forever Winter” saw Swift soar through a lively horn production. And she has never sounded as raw, real and gut-wrenching as she does in “Ronan.”

“Message in the Bottle” is an earworm cowritten by Max Martin and Shellback. But as I listen to this one, I can’t help but think how much Martin could have elevated this song.

“22,” “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and “I Knew You Were Trouble” all lost that special touch in the production without Martin’s involvement, even if Shellback took part in it. As basic as Martin’s pop tracks sound, he always understands how to layer the vocal and production to create the most ear-pleasing experience.

She sounds phoned-in on these tracks, but that’s not such a bad thing as it only highlights how much her vocals have improved over the past few years.

If Red follows a country girl moving to the city after heartbreak to find new experiences, Red (Taylor’s Version) is when she, now much more mature, sits in a car driving back home for the first time in eight years. She’s still not perfect, but then again, who ever is?

All I know is, Swift has somehow elevated this project past masterpiece status.

@DangHLe

features-editor.shorthorn@uta.edu

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